It is time to start setting the farm up for summer, and it does mean more than stocking up on scorched almonds.

The middle of December is the time to turn our attention to how the summer will be managed. Hopefully the rain will keep arriving like November's did.

I find that most long-term weather forecasts are not worth the paper they are written on, so individual farm plans need to be robust and flexible enough to cover all scenarios.
Round length

This is fundamental to get right. The reason we adjust round length out, is to build Average Pasture Cover (APC) and match rotation with the slowing leaf appearance rate.

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We are looking for three leaves — having three leaves appearing every 10 days makes for a 25-30 day round length.

With the use of supplements this lengthening is able to be done very easily and quickly. Without adding in supplements you need to be already lifting target pre-graze covers instead of cutting silage, and reducing areas allocated per day.

One way to help get cows to eat more than 3,000 covers is to pre-mow.

Other options include reducing demand. This can be done by using a Once a Day (OAD) milking regime and/or starting to cull cows that are empty or genuine culls.

Nitrogen

December and early January is a good time to look to push some feed ahead of you into January.

Nitrogen (N) has been shown to be the most cost-effective supplement you can create when the weather conditions allow. Boosted growth and lifting pasture cover with N can help achieve the longer round length.

30kg of N per hectare in the form of Sustain is what you are looking for now. This is also an opportunity to add in some maintenance Potassium (K) input with the N which clover will enjoy.

Stocking rate

From the middle of December any repeat offenders for mastitis or lame cows that are older cows with low PW and LW figures may be worth more culled.

This has the effect of lowering demand and feeding remaining cows better.

Once you get into January/February and you have some pregnancy tests, then you have information you can cull on with the re-checks that may be empty or at least late calving.

Mating plans

With the bulls being in the herds now, check that your bull power is matching to the number of cows cycling. It is safest to work on one bull per cycling cow per day.

If you are doing all AB then keep the heat detection aids in good order.

The use of SGL for the last 10-14 days of AB will give you the advantage of mating for longer and lowering empty rate, but still keep a tighter calving pattern.

Make sure you have a pregnancy test plan in place now as scanners get booked up quickly. Doing an early pregnancy test at 12 weeks can help aid culling decisions earlier.

Business review

Have you revised your financial budget yet? How does it look at a $6.00 payout?

There may be some ability to spend some money on necessities like repairing races or fertiliser. Are there effluent upgrades that need to be planned, booked and accounted for?
Prioritise what is most important to attack this summer.

A useful whole farm assessment tool is the new Farm Gauge tool from DairyNZ.

This is a great tool to help you identify the areas in need of improvement on your farm.

Get others involved in your farm to also evaluate. This can make for some revealing results.

Finally, make sure you arrange some time off farm at some stage this summer. This can help clear your mind and look at your business in a fresh way.

Spending time with family is a priority that we can sometimes fail to value highly enough.
Also, drop around to a neighbour with one of those boxes of scorched almonds and ask them how they are doing.

Have a safe and happy Christmas.